So, a couple of months ago I talked about the Toronto Blue Jays and their free agent considerations. Specifically, I said that they wanted to keep Edwin Encarnacion and didn’t want to keep Jose Bautista. They qualified both players, and both declined the qualifying offer. At the beginning of the free agent seasons, the Blue Jays offered Encarnacion a 4-year, $80 million deal, which he declined. Soon after Encarnacion turned down their offer, they signed Kendrys Morales, making a return to Toronto for Encarnacion difficult. Not long after, they also signed Steve Pearce, which made it pretty much impossible. On the Bautista front, there doesn’t seem to be much action, although Bautista has said that he wants to come back to Toronto. Finally, Encarnacion signed with Cleveland for a deal with roughly the same money per year as the one Toronto offered, but potentially less term (it’s 3 years guaranteed with a buyout option on the fourth year).
So, what happened? From listening to and reading all of the various discussions, it seems to me that the Jays put together a fair offer for Encarnacion that he thought he might be able to beat, and so he replied to the Jays not that he wanted more money or term, but that he wanted to test the free agency waters and see what he could get first. The Blue Jays didn’t want to wait for someone who might walk, especially since the DH position is one that’s theoretically easier to fill; Encarnacion was a great DH and a clutch one at times, but in general you can even platoon DH and do reasonably well. There are less qualifications and considerations in a DH, and they don’t even have to be power hitters; good on-base with speed works well as well. So rather than risk losing Encarnacion and losing out on Morales, they quickly signed Morales, who gave them some options that they needed. Then, as it dragged on a bit, they signed Pearce who also gives them more options. Meanwhile, Encarnacion waited for offers that, it seems, never came. Some of the big teams that might have been interested weren’t, and so he had to settle for what he could get.
I think the big issue here was that early in the process — and even late — Encarnacion’s camp was talking about how he wanted to test the market, while later in the process there was more talk about how he always wanted to come back to Toronto. He might well have wanted that, but saying that he wanted to test the waters made the Jays fear that they’d lose him anyway, and would put other acquisitions on hold. If he had made it clearer that the Jays were his first choice if they could match the market value, they might have waited longer … although they might have believed that they’d be priced out of the market value anyway, and still moved. At any rate, it’s hard not to believe that Encarnacion’s side over-valued the market and so ended up with a worse deal and not in the city that he says he wanted to stay in.
As for Bautista, the Jays still need a corner outfielder, and he is now talking like he’s turned down deal just because they didn’t come from Toronto. However, I think the Jays believe that Bautista isn’t really capable of playing in the field, and they don’t have room at DH for him, and so I don’t think they have much interest in him, no matter what he says. About the only benefit now is to avoid ticking the fans off by losing both fan favourite free agents after losing Price last season, and his bat is still strong enough to make that potentially a risk worth taking. But I don’t really expect it unless it’s a really good deal; don’t expect the Jays to overpay for Bautista.